Tag Archives: Olivier Assayas

Summer Hours (2008)

Long queues are a staple for any film festival. What I did not expect: hours of traffic, a persistent “low oil” light, and zero parking spots. When we finally stepped inside EDSA Shangri-La, Tim, Sarah, and I rewarded ourselves with a hearty CIBO dinner. Later, we added cookies and a bucket of popcorn. The calories were well-deserved.

Last 2011, the French Film Festival featured a Sandrine Bonnaire retrospective (À Nos Amours, Vagabond). This year, director Olivier Assayas serves as the guest of honor, dominating the line-up with titles like Irma Vep and Clean. Unfortunately, our intransigent schedules only allowed us to squeeze in Summer Hours. Its synopsis reads like the premise for an Anne Enright novel: When their mother Hélène (Edith Scob) passes away, three siblings must decide what to do with her legacy of valuable art and furniture—a collection she accumulated over the years in a house with just as much history. As Frédéric (Charles Berling), Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), and Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) confront this enormous decision, they invariably look to the past, sifting through their collected memories in a way that only death can trigger.

There is nothing exciting about Summer Hours. After Hélène’s death, everything else is a long dénouement, an unraveling. Scenes lead into the next like the rooms of a house opening to a visitor; in each one we learn a bit more about this abode, this family. The movie possesses a strong sense of verisimilitude. We see our characters eating, drinking, conversing, negotiating their stands. Brief quarrels arise, but—just as in real life—people concede. Nothing happens, yet even the smallest events leave an imprint on our characters’ internal landscapes. Their shared history has carved mutual scars, as real as the cracks in the walls of the old house, but no crumbling occurs. Nonetheless, our characters do mourn. Frédéric cries over Hélène memorably, his face half-obscured by the reflected leaves on his windshield. He has stopped the car; he cannot go on. But outside his grief, life marches on as usual. Calls have to be placed, decisions made; too soon, it’s all over.

Although I still feel squeamish about the ending (the third-generation epilogue seems too protracted), there’s no question how I feel about the film. Summer Hours is a poignant rumination on inheritance: as gift, as burden, as residue. It’s a quiet film, but it resonates with emotion.

‘A lot of things will be leaving with me. Memories, secrets, stories that interest no one anymore. But…there’s the residue. There are objects.’

Paris Je T’Aime (2006)

Paris has been called many things. A little fiddling with Google search yields three immediate results: city of lights, city of art, city of love. The last is the most tenuous. Michael Schürmann (author of the travel guide Paris Movie Walks) says, “First of all, it is important that we agree on the sheer absurdity of the notion. Love is not something to which any city could or should stake an exclusive claim. There can be a ‘city of love’ as much as there can be a ‘city of indigestion’ or a ‘city of nosebleed’…” Indeed, Google “city of love” plus any beautiful city, and the search results are bound to be staggering (although you won’t find anything to top Paris’ 192,000,000 results). But no logic can ever stop international romantics from imagining that perfect Eiffel Tower picture with their beau. I imagine this sentiment is probably what sparked the concept behind Paris Je T’Aime.

I first encountered this movie in Under the Stars 2008. Wide fields and a black sky constitute a romantic evening, but scattered sound does not encourage an attentive audience, so I only really watched it this week with Maki. Paris Je T’Aime consists of eighteen short films set in the various arrondissements of Paris. Alongside an international ensemble cast (that I will not attempt to list here), the film also throws in entire sequences with mimes, vampires, and even the ghost of Oscar Wilde. I wanted to ask the directors: What were you smoking? (Incidentally, hashish also features prominently in one the shorts.)

This is not the kind of film you can extract a clear synopsis from. The lives we see here are very diverse, yet at the same time it feels as if we’re just watching one stream of activity—representative pulses of Parisian life. Paris Je T’Aime offers a lightheartedness not often found in other romantic dramas. It also contains drama, but somehow even that feels light. Here, everything is simpler than we make it out to be: people go through everything with a smile or tears and in the end it’s all the same—we are merely passing through. Not flippant, but open to the endless possibilities of life. In the face of such levity, nothing is too heavy a burden—not even loneliness, divorce, death, falling in and out of love. In the end all we have is nostalgia.

‘Sitting there, alone in a foreign country, far from my job and everyone I know, a feeling came over me. It was like remembering something I’d never known before or had always been waiting for, but I didn’t know what. Maybe it was something I’d forgotten or something I’ve been missing all my life. All I can say is that I felt, at the same time, joy and sadness. But not too much sadness, because I felt alive. Yes, alive. That was the moment I fell in love with Paris. And I felt Paris fall in love with me.’